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  • Gladys Childs

Bewildered by options? A guide to appreciating the dizzy array of Bible versions.

Olivia from Sacramento messaged this to my Instagram account: ....what is it with all the translations anyway, isn't that just people making up their own versions of the Bible?

If you are a church member, you probably do not struggle with this question. However, did you know that there are a lot of people outside of the church who think the Bible is made up because of the various translations and versions and because of what they were taught in school growing up. It is good idea to have a basic understanding about why we have different translations and versions so if you come across a person who struggles with this and therefore, doubts God, you can help him or her overcome this.

Mistrust of the Biblical text, in some part, relates to our history lessons we received growing up. In these lessons we learned about various kings, queens, and popes who used the Bible as a weapon, kept it from being understood by the masses, beheaded people who made translations everyday people could read, and the list keeps going. Just like now, whenever something is governed by totalitarian individuals, circumstances do not always end well. (Not all kings, queens, and popes were or are this way, just talking about the ones who were.) Unfortunately, in history we have a great deal of documentation about individuals who abused their power and used the Bible, God, faith, and the church in manners that were detrimental.

I have said in a previous blog that who God is and how God acts is not who people are and how people act. You are going to read that phrase a lot from me because it is applicable in so many situations, this one included. All vocations have individuals that use and abuse their power: doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, and plumbers -- basically every vocation has its bad eggs. However, after a bad experience, we do not stop going to the doctor or calling a plumber when we need one, we just select a new one. Yet, when people have a bad faith related experience or make a negative association to anything related to faith, it stops them from any further involvement. So, when people in power use the Bible inappropriately, the Bible itself is cast into question.

With all of that in mind, to answer Olivia's question (in a simplified and short manner), we need to look at the difference between bible translations and bible versions. Translations relate to the language in which the bible is written. The Wycliffe Bible Alliance reports the Bible has been translated (whole or partially) into over 3,300 different languages. Books of all genres are translated into various languages so people around the globe can read them. So, why would it be different with the Bible? Just like any other book, for people to be able to read it, the Bible has to be in a language that they understand.

Versions refer to the particular form of the same type of thing, in this instance, the Bible. So, under the larger umbrella of the English translation, there are numerous versions. One reason we have numerous versions is because there are different philosophies on the best way to translate the bible from the ancient manuscripts into English.

The two main philosophies are formal and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence aims for a literal, word-for-word translation such as the King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV). Functional equivalence focuses on thought-for-thought translation, so the text is easier to understand and read such as New Living Translation (NLT) and the New International Version (NIV).

We also have numerous versions because language changes over time. If we could transport back in time to 1770 in the United States, they would be speaking English; but we would have some difficulty in understanding them and they in understanding us. Which is normal and to be expected. So, apply that concept to the Bible and do you want an English version from 1770 or one from 2000? I personally, would take a version from 2000.

So, you may be thinking that all of what has been said is good and well but how do we know if a version is any good? That is why we have biblical scholars. Biblical scholars are used in translating Bibles because the groups authorizing and paying for the translation want it to be recognized and accepted as legitimate. Also, once a version is published, it is highly critiqued by scholars, universities, and religious groups not involved in the development process. They keep everything in check and call out any issues that might exist with a version.

Olivia, I hoped this helped to answer your question and give you more confidence in the Bible.

My prayer for you and others who struggle with trusting the Bible: "May God keep leading you to seek answers to the questions you have. God is not troubled by your questioning. Trust and believe in the God who inspirited the scriptures and desires to have a deep and abiding relationship with you. In Christ's name, Amen."

If you have a question about God, faith, or the church and you cannot seem to get a straight answer, scroll to the top of the page and hover over "Blog" and you will see the "Question of the Week Submission" tab pop up. Click on it and submit you question.

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Photo credit: Photo by marianne bos on Unsplash

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